France open to cancelling Zimbabwe debt

PARIS, – French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Thursday France was open to discussions with Zimbabwe about cancelling the African country's Paris Club debt.

Speaking after meeting Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Fillon said if Zimbabwe gave guarantees that it would spend the savings on development projects and if democracy took root in Zimbabwe then France would consider a write-off.

"I indicated that France was prepared to renegotiate Zimbabwe’s debt in the framework of the Paris Club but with a specific offer from France which would involve converting that aid (savings from a debt write off) into development projects," Fillon said at a press conference with Tsvangirai.

But he said discussions with Zimbabwe on both debt and aid could take a while and Thursday’s meeting only marked the start of a discussion.

A French government official said the amount owed by Zimbabwe to France in Paris Club debt was around 400 million euros.

France gave Zimbabwe around 6 million euros in aid last year and 3 million euros so far this year and plans to continue at the same pace. The money is directed towards food aid and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The official said that the debt discussion would take years and that it would be conducted in consultation with other Paris Club creditor nations. Progress would very much depend on democracy taking hold in Zimbabwe and economic reforms being implemented, the official said.

France is Zimbabwe’s second biggest sovereign creditor. 

Tsvangirai was in Paris on the last stop of a tour to Europe and the United States to raise cash from donors. Zimbabwe says it needs $10 billion to rebuild its shattered economy.

Tsvangirai joined a unity government with rival Mugabe in February to end a political and economic crisis. Mugabe has ruled the southern African country since independence from Britain in 1980 and critics say he has ruined a once prosperous nation.